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ZOE helps AIDS orphans support families

AIDS orphans cultivate a field of coffee plants in Huye, Rwanda.
UMNS photos courtesy of the Rev. Greg Jenks.

A UMNS Feature
By Lilla Marigza*

Dec. 1, 2008

Dozens of young men and women are busy working a field on a lush green mountainside in rural Rwanda.

They are pulling brush and turning soil by hand. The seeds they are planting are symbols of hope. These AIDS orphans, who have struggled to survive, will soon have food and money not only for their families but also for neighbors in need.

The Rev. Greg Jenks gives a pig to an AIDS orphan in the ZOE Ministry’s Giving Hope program.

The United Methodist ZOE Ministry is empowering orphans to provide for themselves and their families by growing rice and coffee. In three years, this field in Huye, Rwanda, will be yielding 18 tons of coffee annually.

A cooperative of 87 orphan-led households tends to the coffee plantation in Huye. The first crop in the spring of 2010 is expected to bring in $10,000. Each family will receive a share equivalent to $115 a year.

The Rev. Greg Jenks, the United Methodist pastor who founded ZOE, says he was overwhelmed with excitement about the possibilities presented by the income.

“My mind began imagining the additional seed they could purchase, animals they could obtain,” says Jenks, of Clayton, N.C. But, he says, “the orphans had a different vision.”

The orphans’ vision: Use a significant share of the income to help the most vulnerable in their community.

“We will share anything we have,” says Alexis Twizeyimana, leader of the young farmers. “Fifty percent will be divided among the families in the co-op, but we are going to use the other 50 percent to assist orphans who are not receiving any support.”

These partnerships among orphans are the foundation of the ZOE Giving Hope program.

Building hope and a future

The AIDS epidemic has killed almost 60 million people across Africa, and 6,000 children are left orphaned every day, according to ZOE. In the parents’ absence, the eldest in a household must find ways to save his or her siblings from starvation and homelessness. ZOE’s Giving Hope program provides families with seeds, tools and animals to establish farms.

Within three years, most orphan-led families are self-sufficient.

ZOE began in 2004 to meet the basic needs of feeding orphans and paying their school fees. Since then, it has evolved into providing sustainable solutions that empower orphan-led households. ZOE trains families to grow kitchen gardens and care for hens, chickens, goats and other livestock, which can be sources of both food and income.

“These children are going from two to three days without food to … in just a few months… eating every day,” Jenks says. “When you see that you are able to do that with a one-time gift of seed and a one-time gift of animals, with proper training, then you are not just meeting a need, you are solving a problem.”

Opening doors

Through ZOE, groups of children support each other in many ways. They help on one another’s farms, and they build homes for the most vulnerable orphan families in their community.

Epiphanie Mujawimana, director of ZOE Ministry’s Giving Hope program, gives a gift to an orphan.

Each month, ZOE provides “life skills” workshops on such topics as food production, health and hygiene, and starting small businesses.

Education opens many doors for AIDS orphans. When a child is orphaned by AIDS, there is a stigma attached to the surviving members of the family. Children are ostracized by their neighbors because of fear about the spread of HIV/AIDS. ZOE provides grants for community education on HIV/AIDS. Education efforts include having orphans sing, dance and perform skits about AIDS prevention. The presentations have become popular and have helped the children become accepted in their communities.

“Nobody from their community would come to see them, to talk to them,” says Epiphanie Mujawimana, Giving Hope coordinator. “But when they started the anti-AIDS club, many people will come. Now they are valued in their community.”

ZOE has empowered 1,350 families representing 4,400 children.

ZOE recently launched a “virtual prayer ministry,” an e-mail-based effort that invites subscribers to pray for specific people and goals. A recent request asked participants to keep in mind Farai Mashonganyika, field officer in Zimbabwe, and to pray for the safety of the ZOE food supplies in areas of recent violence. Originally founded as the Zimbabwe Orphans Endeavor, ZOE has grown in scope to serve other countries too, such as Rwanda in East Africa. Its Web site notes that “zoe” is the Greek word for “life.”

Support comes through donations from around the church, including the denomination’s Advance program, coordinated by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. Donations to Advance Project No. 982023 can be made through a local church or by sending a check payable to Advance GCFA, with the name of the ministry and project number on the check, to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit-card gifts can be made by phone by calling (888) 252-6174 or made online at http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/advance/donate.cfm?code=982023&id=3019513.

More information about ZOE is available at www.zoeministry.org.

*Marigza is a freelance producer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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